It’s no secret that in order to master the pentatonic scale, you need to learn how to play it confidently across the entire guitar neck. The pentatonic scale is a versatile and essential tool for creating beautiful melodies and solos, and it’s a must-know for any guitarist.
This is a two-part lesson that will not only show you the patterns across the neck, but also how to actually practice them! Playing the shapes up and down can be boring, so stick around for the second half of this lesson where I share with you actionable practice ideas that you can implement into your daily practice.
Part 1: Exploring the Five Forms
To learn the pentatonic scale effectively across the neck, we’ll break it down into five forms or patterns that interlink with each other like a jigsaw puzzle. These patterns will serve as the building blocks for developing your pentatonic expertise. These examples will all be from the perspective of the key: A minor.
Form 1 – Root Position:
Form 1 represents our starting point, also known as the root position. This shape will be your “home” position, and is something you will always be able to count on if you get lost on the guitar neck.
Form 2 – The Minor-Major Shift:
Form 2 reflects the parallel major key, C major. In the key of C major, this would actually be “form 1”. Context is very important in music!
Notice how this shape connects the previous one like a jigsaw piece. You’ll find that to be consistent for each form.
Form 3 – Expanding Your Range:
Form 3 begins on the minor 3rd of the A minor pentatonic scale.
Form 4 – Shifting the Starting Point:
Starting on the perfect 4th of A minor, Form 4 looks quite similar to Form 1 which hopefully makes it quite simple to remember! We’ll move this scale shape back an octave (12 frets) on the fretboard to give us more space.
Form 5 – Completing the Set:
Finally, Form 5 is the direct neighbour of Form 1.
Part 2: Breaking Free from Boxes
Once you’re starting to get confident at remembering the five pentatonic positions, you might find yourself feeling confined to rigid box shapes and patterns. In this section of the lesson I’ll share with you some practice ideas that can help you break free from these limitations and seamlessly blend these shapes across the guitar neck like the pros!
While vertical playing (up and down the neck) is essential, mastering horizontal playing is equally crucial. Start by isolating two strings at a time and explore each form exclusively in a horizontal fashion.
For example, start to play through the five forms on only the low B and E strings.
You can sequence the notes however you would like, and if you’re really daring then perhaps you can attempt to improvise on just these two strings!
After you feel confident at playing on this first string set, go through the same process on the next string set – the G and B strings.
Then of course onwards through each string set.
Challenge yourself by skipping forms and taking larger jumps across the neck. You’ll soon find yourself quite confident at playing through the shapes when they’re all neighbouring, so try to force yourself to be less dependant on neighbouring shapes.
This exercise will encourage you to be less dependant on connecting shapes, but instead more focused on interval relationships and note positions.
Experimentation is Key:
Ultimately, the key to mastering the pentatonic scale across the entire neck lies in experimentation. Try different sequences, patterns, and combinations to find your unique voice on the guitar.
The pentatonic scale is a cornerstone of guitar playing, and mastering it across the entire neck will open up new avenues of creativity and expression in your music. Remember that there are no shortcuts to proficiency; it takes time, practice, and patience. So, start with these five forms, work on your horizontal playing, and experiment with different approaches.
The good news about learning guitar is that when you learn something once, it can be easily transposed to any key by simply moving all shapes respectively to the key. I believe it’s best to practice this kind of thing in short but frequent bursts.
If you want to delve deeper into your understanding of the pentatonic scale, and many more essential musical concepts, be sure to check out my Essential Theory For Guitarists masterclass!